Time and again you’ll hear people say that the NFL is a quarterback’s league. This is true to a large extent. They’re the faces of most franchises, the highest paid players on average and the most pivotal part of any team’s overall success. That doesn’t mean that they’re the most important element to consider when betting on spreads.
I was looking at the top quarterbacks in the league so far by the numbers purely out of curiosity. When I went through the list, all I could think was “these teams aren’t winning games”. That turned out to be very true. Only three of the top ten passers so far have winning records over a three week sample size.
Here’s the list:
Top-10 Quarterbacks w/ ATS Records (Thru Week 3)
|PLAYER||PASS YARDS||SU RECORD||ATS RECORD|
|1||Drew Brees (Saints)||1,062||0-3||1-2|
|2||Kirk Cousins (Redskins)||989||1-2||1-2|
|3||Matt Stafford (Lions)||985||1-2||1-2|
|4||Matt Ryan (Falcons)||970||2-1||2-1|
|5||Andy Dalton (Bengals)||938||1-2||1-2|
|6||Jameis Winston (Bucs)||929||1-2||1-2|
|7||Eli Manning (Giants)||925||2-1||1-2|
|8||Andrew Luck (Colts)||913||1-2||1-2|
|9||Ryan Tannehill (Dolphins)||892||1-2||1-2|
|10||Derek Carr (Raiders)||867||2-1||2-1|
|TOTAL||–||12-18 SU||12-18 ATS|
The table above is legitimately explainable to a certain extent. Only Atlanta (5th) and Oakland (2nd) have rushing offences that are ranked in the top-15 of the entire league. At least seven of these teams have trouble running the football effectively overall due to talent or offensive line issues, and if you don’t have a ground game then you have to throw the ball more than you want to. That’s simple logic.
Specific trends pop-up if you look at the list more closely. You can’t write off the Raiders just yet, and the Bengals have faced arguably the most difficult schedule through the first three weeks. This isn’t a definitive list of the worst teams to bet on in the league, but it’s a massive indicator that you shouldn’t just be betting on the idea that Brees is going to sling it around the park all afternoon on a Sunday.
Most importantly, the dominant characteristic of all these teams has to do with their inability to keep points off the scoreboard. If you’re chasing leads, or battling to maintain one, then you have to start throwing the ball, which is the reality for a lot of the guys on these teams. Six of these quarterbacks play on the worst defensive teams in terms of points against through three weeks. In fact, none of them play on teams that rank in the top-10 for that stat category.
Betting on sports is about finding a metric or angle that nobody else has. Sometimes you just have to go against public opinion despite your instincts. I’ve been beating this drum for three weeks now, but I think that the biggest lean in NFL betting is going to be team defence. That’s if you want to win your bets and all.
You’re looking for something that nobody else is noticing. Just assume that the public bets in the most general ways possible and do something more specific. There are always little wrinkles here and there, like a solid home team bet or a runaway streaker. But the broader stroke is that strong team defences have been the most rock-solid return in NFL betting through three weeks.
Want proof? I’ve got it right here:
Top-10 Team Defences w/ ATS Records (Thru Week 3)
|TEAM||PTS AGAINST||ATS RECORD||PASS RANK|
|5||New England Patriots||15.0||3-0||26th|
|6||Kansas City Chiefs||16.3||1-2||22nd|
Look at that chart. Look at it! The final column on the right indicates the ranking of the passing offence of said team. The top-10 defenses in the league have an undeniably bankable record of 21-9 ATS combined, and they’re doing this with an average passing attack that ranks around 21st or 22nd in the league (241.5 yards per game).
The most notable characteristic those teams share is that they’ve all put dampers on their quarterbacks. Philadelphia, New England, Denver and Dallas are managing first timers. Houston and Kansas City have balanced attacks and can’t completely trust their quarterback to win games with their arms. Seattle and Tennessee are such messes that I wouldn’t touch them even remotely.
Granted, some of the best bets in the league have had easy matchups so far. But Minnesota, Philadelphia, New England and Denver? They haven’t had it easy. Nor do they have offences that scare the pants off of the oddsmakers.
What you’re seeing more so this year than any other is teams that can impose their will on opponents. A careful, tactical offence that strikes when opportunities arise combined with shut down defences can be a cash cow. Remember, you hardly every rely on a single element to foster your wagers. More than anything, it’s a combination of certain things coming together.
Knowing little details like this can be the difference between swinging heavy or falling prey to what the house wants you to believe. Traditional gamblers will play Pittsburgh and Green Bay with the mindset that they can do what I’m suggesting but that’s not the case. The Steelers and Packers rank 14th and 15th in terms of points allowed. There’s nothing to suggest that they’re the defensive teams that we think they are, and the addition of Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers does funky things to the betting line.
I still don’t believe that you should be swinging heavily at spreads just yet. We can start getting more brazen in Week 5. However it’s becoming clear that Minnesota, Philadelphia and Denver are becoming the most attractive takes on the board. If you’re going to back any team with larger bets this coming weekend, it’s those three teams. Sadly, the Eagles have a bye week but I suspect that Baltimore is trending in that direction as well. All three of those teams have very tempting matchups this weekend.
It’s time to face the reality of the 2016 NFL betting season. Until we can firmly understand why the best passing teams aren’t producing wins against the spread you’re still stuck relying on team defences protecting your money.